Last Friday FOX news breathlessly reported that lack of gun control is not the reason for the rate of mass murder seen in the US. According to the US right wingers the issue is suddenly no longer video games or drugs, but psychiatry. I find it particularly aggravating that the issue is reported as if the issues of psychiatry and gun crime are somehow mutually exclusive .

Fox gunt nuts Psychiatrists dont kill people, guns do

Taken from a report by Fox News this Friday

On Saturday Al Frances (the prominent psychiatrist known for chairing the DSM-IV task force and one of DSM-V’s harshest critics) wrote an editorial rebutting the claims:

There is a presumption that if (you) can understand the mind of the mass murderer then perhaps we can prevent the mass murders. This is dead wrong. Psychiatry has no way of predicting or preventing rare and fairly random acts of senseless violence- it is simply impossible to find needles in haystacks. We must accept the fact that a small cohort of deranged and disaffected potential mass murderers will always exist undetected in our midst. The only questions are how often will these ticking time bombs go off and how much damage will they do when detonated.

The largely unnoticed elephant in the room is how astoundingly easy it always is for the killers to buy supercharged firearms and unlimited rounds of ammo. The ubiquity of powerful weaponry is what makes the US such a dangerous place to live. Guns do kill people and the number of people depends on the number of guns and the number of rounds they can fire in a given period of time. Successful political scare tactics have buried open discussion of the most obvious of simple truths- that the wide circulation of powerful semi-automatic weapons will inevitably result in a lot of preventable deaths. So don’t be at all surprised when there are a couple of mass murders every year- it is built into our current system. The US has the one of developed world’s worst statistics for mass murders and gun deaths because we have so many powerful guns floating around and gun laws that allow murderers easy access to them.

Add to the mix the egregiously vitriolic and verbally violent discourse of demagogic politicians and talk show hosts- egging on those vulnerable to physical violence and providing them with a seeming justification for their callous brutality.

There are certainly issues regarding the role of psychiatry in our lives, foremost of these is the rapidly approaching controversial publication of DSM-5, the psychiatrist’s textbook. Funny how the right wing press have remained deadly silent on this issue until they require a scapegoat for the tragic effects of the gun laws they so violently support. Unfortunately, it is now probably too late to reform DSM-5, dozens of professional organisations including the British Psychologyical Society as well as 12,000 individuals registered concerns. Did you hear a pip-squeak from the right wing press? No, because when it mattered, it wasn’t on their bogus, populist reactionary agenda.

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Readability A brief guide to reading onlineThis blog, like much of the internet has become a little cluttered as of late.  I’ve recently stumbled across a wonderful little free app that wipes the page clean of all superfluous text and graphics outside of the article in question providing a far cleaner reading environment. The app also has the option of syncing the article to your phone, a function I was previously achieving with the stone-age method of copy-and-pasting-and-emailing-to-myself. Another favourite feature of mine is the facility to invert the colour of text making reading easier on the eyes and saving battery life.

If you haven’t already got it, I’d also recommend Google Reader for subscribing to blogs (like this one) and news websites. All you have to do is drop the top-level domain of almost any of your favourite websites in to Reader and then you can browse all your favourite news sources in one place on your desktop and on your phone, all for free.

Finally, while I’m at it I might as well mention F.lux, another awesome free app. If like me you have a tendency to work through the night, F.lux adjusts the brightness of the screen in accordance with the position of the sun over your head based on your geo-location, enabling you to read and work at any hour of the day without straining your eyes!

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Laughing Gas Will somebody please explain to the Daily Mail that overdose does not mean the same as to put a plastic bag over your headI’ve taken a break from debunking Daily Mail articles for a while, not because they have improved but simply because I don’t have the will to read them or the time to keep up with them. Due to popular demand however,  I’ve done a brief swipe at their latest overblown, factually devoid, celerbrity inspired piece of trash.

From the Daily Mail’s recent article on laughing gas (Nitrous Oxide):

“An overdose can be fatal… The International Centre For Drug Policy charts deaths in the UK from volatile substance misuse, including the gas. Their most recent report, from 2010, notes that ‘in 2008 there were two deaths (three in 2007) associated with the inhalation of nitrous oxide, which had been obtained for non-medical purposes’. Finding more up-to-date figures is problematic, as the report is not currently active because of Department Of Health belt-tightening”

Never-mind more recent figures, lets just actually read the rest of the sentence..

‘In 2008 there were two deaths (four in 2007) associated with the inhalation of anaestheticagents. Both cases involved nitrous oxide, supplied for non-medical use as cylinders or as caplets designed to be employed with cream-whipping devices, and were the result of asphyxiation where the nitrous oxide had been inhaled using a plastic bag over the head.

I won’t go in to the rest of the unsubstantiated claims that the Daily Mail makes, such as that Nitrous Oxide causes strokes and chronic depression. Suffice to say that the drug is contained in every emergency ambulance and doctors surgery in the country and is deemed safe enough to be considered a first port of call emergency anaesthetic and is even provided for hours on end to women in Labour.

The Daily Mail does note one solitary useful point, that taking the gas straight from a cannister (i.e. without a balloon) can cause the lungs to freeze but this valuable information is buried so far in the sea of nonsense that readers will probably presume the Daily Mail made that up to. Which is precisely the problem with scaremongering nonsense such as this.

If you’d like to know more about Nitrous Oxide I’ve pasted the facts below directly from the BNF1. If you use laughing gas regularly, particularly if you are a vegetarian, take note of the fact that the drug depletes B-vitamins and get yourself a bottle.

Nitrous oxide is used for maintenance of anaesthesia and, in sub-anaesthetic concentrations, for analgesia. For anaesthesia, nitrous oxide is commonly used in a concentration of 50 to 66% in oxygen as part of a balanced technique in association with other inhalational or intravenous agents. Nitrous oxide is unsatisfactory as a sole anaesthetic owing to lack of potency, but is useful as part of a combination of drugs since it allows a significant reduction in dosage.

For analgesia (without loss of consciousness), a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen containing 50% of each gas (Entonox®, Equanox®) is used. Self-administration using a demand valve is popular in obstetric practice, for changing painful dressings, as an aid to postoperative physiotherapy, and in emergency ambulances.

Nitrous oxide may have a deleterious effect if used in patients with an air-containing closed space since nitrous oxide diffuses into such a space with a resulting increase in pressure. This effect may be dangerous in the presence of a pneumothorax, which may enlarge to compromise respiration, or in the presence of intracranial air after head injury.

Hypoxia can occur immediately following the administration of nitrous oxide; additional oxygen should always be given for several minutes after stopping the flow of nitrous oxide.

Exposure of patients to nitrous oxide for prolonged periods, either by continuous or by intermittent administration, may result in megaloblastic anaemia owing to interference with the action of vitamin B12; neurological toxic effects can occur without preceding overt haematological changes. For the same reason, exposure of theatre staff to nitrous oxide should be minimised. Depression of white cell formation may also occur.

Assessment of plasma-vitamin B12 concentration should be considered in those at risk of deficiency, including the elderly, those who have a poor or vegetarian diet, and those with a history of anaemia. Nitrous oxide should not be given continuously for longer than 24 hours or more frequently than every 4 days without close supervision and haematological monitoring.


British Medical Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (2009). British National Formulary BMJ Publishing Group, 58th ed

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A new technique for visualising the connections between people based on their influences according to Wikipedia has been created by Simon Raper of the Drunks and Lampposts blog who initially used the technique to map the links between philosophers. The technique has been applied by the blogger Brendan Griffen to include a broader snapshot of Wikipedia. In the graph below each node is an individual and the links between them are based on the “influenced by” field in Wikipedia.

The colours represent different genres:

  • Red – 19th/20th century philosophers
  • Green – antiquity & enlightenment philosophers
  • Pink – enlightenment authors
  • Yellow – 19th/20th century authors (~fiction/philosophy)
  • Orange – fiction authors
  • Purple – comedians

Hit “full screen” and F11 for best results and scroll the wheel of your mouse to navigate.

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Lying Eyes1 Liars look to the right, right? Wrong.

According to received wisdom, eyes looking up to the right indicate lying

A paper published yesterday in PLOS ONE by the Richard Wiseman et al (the king of weird and wonderful psychology experiments) has apparently disproved the long-standing theory that direction of eye gaze can indicate lying. The theory which forms part of the bed-rock of the controversial offshoot of psychology called ‘Neuro-linguistic programming’ (NLP) has in fact never actually been experimentally researched until now. The study found absolutely no correlation between eye gaze and lying. Considering that this theory has become such a staple of popular psychology, it really is astounding that this was not discovered sooner.

From the abstract:

“Proponents of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) claim that certain eye-movements are reliable indicators of lying. According to this notion, a person looking up to their right suggests a lie whereas looking up to their left is indicative of truth telling. Despite widespread belief in this claim, no previous research has examined its validity. In Study 1 the eye movements of participants who were lying or telling the truth were coded, but did not match the NLP patterning. In Study 2 one group of participants were told about the NLP eye-movement hypothesis whilst a second control group were not. Both groups then undertook a lie detection test. No significant differences emerged between the two groups. Study 3 involved coding the eye movements of both liars and truth tellers taking part in high profile press conferences. Once again, no significant differences were discovered. Taken together the results of the three studies fail to support the claims of NLP. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.”

Wiseman, R., Watt C., Brinke, L., Porter, S., Couper, S., & Rankin, C. (2012). The Eyes Don’t Have It: Lie Detection and Neuro-Linguistic Programming PLOS ONE : 10.1371/journal.pone.0040259

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